Programming: The Illusion of Control

History repeats itself often. This classically happens when we aren’t aware or don’t remember what’s come before us. Yesterday’s article discussed the importance and, frankly, the inevitability of volatility in our existence. This juxtaposed against the human desire for control makes for a unique conflict. 

Specifically when it comes to fitness training it seems as though there’s a reoccurring dream happening. After some time in training, programming becomes the athletes’ focus. Rather than looking inward to achieve positive outcomes with personal responsibility for intensity and skill, the focus becomes external. The assumption here is that there is a perfect program and a new program is always better than the current program, because, well, the truth is all real training eventually feels mundane at times, gains come inconveniently slow, and questioning the programming is much easier than questioning yourself. 

In 2010, Coach Brian Mackenzie and I talked about some good research he found on the prevalence of personal records (PRs) in track and field finals at the Olympic Games. The insight was that the best athletes in the world, with the best coaches in the world, with the most time to prepare and the most funding by and large couldn’t figure out how to hit a personal best on the world’s biggest stage. They couldn’t control their outcomes enough to linearly progress these athletes like the text books claimed. I asked our resident Olympic medalist, Caroline Burckle, the same about men and women setting new personal bests in the Olympic finals in swimming and the results were similar. Phelps shouldn’t PR in practice. He should PR when Olympic gold is on the line, right?

The feeling of control around linear progression, highly specific programming, and training adaptation is an illusion. Period. Now, this isn’t to say that the prescription of training dose and stimulus doesn’t matter. There surely is such a thing as bad programming and inefficient routes to getting fast, getting strong, and building capacity. However, the elitist view of pseudo-control in training not only isn’t serving anyone, it isn’t true. 

My two cents? I don’t think the above facts are a case for less rigorous training. I believe it’s a case for context, humility, and, most importantly, ready-state. If you could access 90% of your best at any time under any conditions, you’d be much better off than being blinded by the illusion that you can perfectly control the future. If remarkable pride is taken in skill acquisition (how you move) and you accurately hit a training stimulus (intensity), you’ll outperform the version of yourself that forfeits the responsibility of adaptation to what’s on the program.

GPP is training for ready-state. 


Logan Gelbrich 


3/18/20 WOD

Handstand Series: 

Complete 6 rounds for quality of:

:45 Foot Elevated Plank Hold

-Rest :90-



Walking Lunges